Russian President’s special envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov has this to say in an interview with the editor-in-chief of the Afghanistan.ru news portal, Omar Nessar.
What was the reason behind the need to appoint the Russian President’s envoy to Afghanistan?
The Russian President instructed his special envoy to Afghanistan to help to promote multifaceted Russian-Afghan relations and coordinate the work between relevant departments to this end. I was also entrusted to coordinate the work with international partners in the interests of building a peaceful, independent and prosperous Afghan state, which is free from terrorism and drug-related crimes. The Russian leaders did not establish the post of a special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan deliberately and by doing so, they emphasized that Russia would give priority to Afghanistan. This country is in trouble and we will purposefully, as Afghans say, with open heart, work for the sake of overcoming this situation by coordinating our efforts together with the rest of the international community.
In the past years, much has been said about the need to strengthen military measures in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan by taking serious social and economic steps, but very little has been done in reality. In the past years, Russia has proposed in vain to foreign donors to reconstruct the Salang tunnel together. The tunnel is vital not only for Afghanistan but also for the U.S. and NATO for guaranteeing uninterrupted supplies to their forces through the northern route. Nevertheless, the western donors failed to make modest allocations for the Salang tunnel while spending tens of billions of dollars for military purposes. During the visit to Moscow of President Hamid Karzai in January, agreement was reached on multilateral cooperation aimed at implementing several regional projects.
What are the projects that can be implemented by Russia?
The Russian President confirmed the readiness of the state-run Gazprom to be involved in the construction of the TAPI gas pipeline (transit gas pipeline that links Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India-note by Afghaninstan.ru). The presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan welcomed the Russian involvement in the construction of the TAPI gas pipeline. I must emphasize that regardless whether Russia will be involved in the construction of the pipeline or not, it will not oppose the implementation of the project. The pipeline will be beneficial not only for these countries but all countries in the region. Afghanistan will be benefitted not only by transporting gas through its territory but also by getting access to a cheaper energy resource. This will help to develop the national economy and industry.
We are also ready to implement the CASA-1000 project (the supply of electricity from Tajikistan and Kirgizstan to Afghanistan and Pakistan) making large investment by the Russian company, “Inter RAO UES” as one of its operator.
At present, the task of the participants of the given projects is to contact the relevant Russian companies with consolidated proposals so as to start negotiations.
How do you asses the U.S. and NATO strategy in Afghanistan?
We agree with those who consider that the Afghan issue cannot be resolved militarily. But it’s impossible to solve it without the military’s involvement because this would mean that the coalition forces are surrendering. Afghanistan has to speak with Taliban from the position of strength, and consequently, military should be involved. It’s a different story that military levers should not be used thoughtlessly and dully. What is happening now? NATO declares that the coalition forces have liberated a district and western soldiers leave it, but literally, on the next day, militants returned to the “liberated district”. Such an approach shows that military methods are ineffective.
There is a need to do everything so that local people defend themselves from Taliban militants, while the central government and coalition forces cover them. To this end, there is need to set up a social and economic basis. In fact, I do not want to think for Americans. After all, there are no Russian forces in Afghanistan.
Has Russia its own Afghan strategy now?
Russia’s Afghan policy is determined proceeding from the country’s interests and the presences of necessary resources. However, Russia is not intended to be involved in the inter-Afghan confrontation and any military adventures. We support anti-terror efforts which are being made by the U.S. in Afghanistan because this meets Russia’s national interests. What we want from the U.S. and NATO is that they created an independent army and an economy that will feed the armed forces. After doing so, the international coalition can leave the country.
What is your opinion that the U.S. has no desire to create an Afghan national army?
I believe that the Americans had sufficient time, 10 years, to create a battle-worthy army and police. There is an opinion that several neighbours of Afghanistan have opposed this. The presence of a sustainable army is crucial at a time when the responsibility for maintaining security is being handed over to Afghans. It’s bad that a lot of time has been wasted. In fact, some time ago, the Soviet Union created a strong army in Afghanistan but it took years to do so.
What is your opinion that there should be not only soldiers, instructors and advanced weapons but also relevant ideology to create a powerful army?
I believe that healthy nationalism based on self-perception of all residents of the country as Afghans without dividing them into Pushtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks or any other group could become an ideological basis that will unite all of them. Any attempt to engage in political intrigues by playing cards of inter-ethnic contradictions is fraught with disastrous consequences for the Afghan state and the stability of the region. Russia sees Afghans as a unified nation. It’s no mere chance that I spoke about intrigues based on ethnic contradictions. Some western experts are studying various versions of decentralization of the Afghan government. I have always told them: listen, you cannot cope with a single central government in Kabul accusing it of high level of corruption etc. How will you cope with several such central governments?
At present, Afghanistan needs a strong central government. When the war ends and the economy start functioning properly in 20-30 years, the Afghans will decide themselves how to live. It’s not our duty to teach them. They should make the final decision.
Some experts say that Russia has a few allies in Afghanistan, and Moscow can rely only on Tajiks. For one, Afghans have been still questioning why Russia supported Ahmad Shah Masood.
Who should have been supported by Russia? Perhaps Russia should have been supported Mullah Omar or Bin Laden who set up terrorist training camps, recognized “Ichkeria” and set up its embassy in Kabul. We supported those who put up resistance to this movement, and Russia had no alternative. Pushtuns either fled away or watched excesses committed by the Taliban and its sponsors indifferently. Consequently, we supported the Northern Alliance that resisted till the end. If Pushtuns offered resistance we would have supported them too.
Will there be a situation under which Russia is forced to form an alliance involving Indians and Iranians?
If some one certainly needs alliances, there is such an alliance now. It’s Shanghai Corporation Organization, which is consistently supporting a regional settlement leaning on economic cooperation.
Do you believe that the U.S. and NATO will leave the region?
I do not believe that the western coalition will completely leave despite of contradictory declarations. However, sometimes there are consequences, which are stronger than intentions.
In fact, firstly, the Afghan issue has to be resolved before talking about a pullout from Afghanistan. This is the reason why Russia is helping the U.S. and NATO and providing transport through its territory. I must emphasize that one has not only to fight in Afghanistan but also to build it.
Confidence that the U.S. will not withdraw from the region has strengthened since the appearance of reports on the possibility of setting up permanent American bases in Afghanistan.
Long-term American bases in Afghanistan will significantly complicate the situation in the region and will be a source of tension.
Afghan political elite supports the setting up American bases in the country, considering that the American presence will help averting the repetition of the events in the 90s when Afghanistan turned into a battlefield between its neighbours after the Soviet pullout.
At present, the situations in the neighbouring countries differ from those in the 90s. For one, there are more than enough problems in Pakistan. To avoid this, the Americans should do what was done by the Soviet Union for the Afghans and form a strong army, which will be a defence guarantee from neighbours. Afghanistan needs a compact, low-cost but mobile and strong army.
Neutral status of Afghanistan will also play an important role. This should be guaranteed by the UN Security Council on the basis of the 7th chapter of the UN Charter. In case of an external threat, Afghanistan will be protected by the entire international community. Neutrality means the absence of foreign forces on the territory of a country.
Russia’s initiative on granting Afghanistan the monitor status of the SCO coincided with the reports on plans to set up American bases in Afghanistan. Is this happened accidentally?
Actually, the initiative came from Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai expressed desire for getting SCO membership during his visit to Moscow in January. Later, the issue was discussed by the deputy foreign ministers of the member-countries of the organization in Moscow in April.
What can SCO provide for Afghanistan?
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization can provide for Afghanistan much more than it can receive from the country. After becoming a SCO monitor state, Afghanistan will get an opportunity to participate in economic cooperation programmes of the member countries worked out by the organization.
There is an opinion that the Americans consider Afghanistan as a transit bridge between South and Central Asia, and consequently is engaged only in the development of communications.
Geographical location of Afghanistan provides for setting up military bases that can exert pressure on a vast region, including Central Asia, the Caspian littoral and the Persian Gulf, which is rich in oil and gas and other resources. In such a development, the Afghans will be again in the epicenter of a competition between the states, and this will hardly be beneficial for the country.
Some Russian businessmen say that it’s impossible to implement large-scale projects in Afghanistan without state guarantees.
I should describe this as state support the form of which will be determined by the government in each case individually. We support Russian and Afghan private companies that establish independently mutually beneficial ties. To this end, Russian-Afghan business council was formed under Russia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Afghan business centre has been working since last year. These bodies are designed to mobilize the capabilities of businessmen of the two countries to promote mutually beneficial trade and economic ties.
Lately, one of the key problems that hamper trade and economic relations between Russia and Afghanistan is the transit of cargo through the territories of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. Is there any hope to overcome this obstacle?
There is a problem, which is caused not only political factors but also low carrying capacity of transit corridors, corruption, red tape and other factors. All this increases the transit costs. Kabul should reach an agreement with Tashkent, Dushanbe, Ashkhabad and other partners to remove these obstacles. The integration of Afghanistan into the SCO will play a positive role in promoting such cooperation.
In fact, the Russian companies are now ready to be involved in the construction of rail roads in Afghanistan. Russia put forward concrete proposals to this end during the visit to Moscow of Hamid Karzai in January.
Lately, Russia has said more than once it is supporting the policy of reconciliation in Afghanistan. At the same time it has set forth a “tough filter” for the reintegration of the Taliban. Is there any change in these conditions in the past months?
Russia supports the programme of national reconciliation in Afghanistan in case if it is implemented by the guidance of Afghans – the Afghan government, and if the opposition recognizes the constitution of Afghanistan, stops fighting against Kabul and breaks off its ties with al-Qaeda.
The Afghan community in Russia has stepped up its involvement in Afghan affairs in the past years. Does the Russian President’s special envoy to Afghanistan work with the Afghan community together with the Russian agencies?
I have always drawn attention of the heads of the Russian law enforcement agencies to the statistics about crimes committed by foreign communities in the Russian Federation. The Afghan community has been on the bottom of the list. This shows that Afghans are trying their best to earn money honestly without violating Russian law. Consequently, Russian law enforcement agencies show maximum tolerance for Afghans in Russia.
I hope this will make easy to reach agreements on the liberalization of procedures of legalization of people of Afghan origin in Russia. We plan to step up our cooperation also with Afghan businessmen living in Russia in the implementation of projects in Afghanistan because we will clearly have to cooperate with the Afghan Diaspora.